The intermediate phase of a squash player’s development is more critical than the beginner and advanced stages. The squash drills that intermediate players adopt at this phase of their development will go a long way to determining just how successful they will be on a squash court.
Depending on your age and health, the progress made during the intermediate phase could go a considerable way to determining if the next few decade or two of your life will be spent in an office – or trying to get into and office – or on the sports field.
This is a serious business that could define the rest of your life. Part and parcel of taking this seriously means training diligently.
The following drills are suggested for intermediate players.
More often than not, the drills will be straightforward but emphasis should always be placed on intensity and this is often the undoing of players who aren’t entirely clear on the level of their commitment to the sport.
By now you should possess a decent forehand. If not, you should not be classified as an intermediate player. Among the shortcomings that intermediate players encounter at this level are an exaggerated back swing and a weak forearm.
Both are either a symptom of or contribute to a lack of racket stability on the forehand. Too many players, especially at this level, try to hit the rubber off the ball. It is a noble endeavour but doesn’t always yield the desired results.
You need to teach yourself to shorten your back swing. You need to strengthen your forearm, to compensate for the absence of an exaggerated back swing and most importantly, you need to stabilise your racket upon contact with the ball.
For this drill, if you are left-handed, you ought to stand on the left-hand side of the court and if you are right-handed, you ought to stand on the right-hand side of the court.
Station yourself on the short-line and hit the squash ball below the service line. Keep hitting it back, with the view to landing the ball midway between the short-line and the front wall. The idea is to maintain control for as long as possible.
While you are at it, try to increase the speed of the ball. If successful, you will increase the speed of your racket swing and ultimately your reaction time.
This is an extension of the first drill, with a few complications. You are still focusing on the forehand stroke here. Among the more subtle differences is that you are – or should be – playing the stroke from the service box and not the short-line.
The more glaring difference is that you will now be alternating you stance a little. So, your first stroke will be played with the open stance, while your next stroke will be played with a closed stance.
That effectively means that for the first stroke you will step forward with your right foot – if you are a right-handed player – and for your second stroke you will step forward with your left foot.
As if often the case with squash drills, the goal is rather simple. All you are trying to do here is encourage yourself to move your feet a little more.
Well…a lot more. The drill also promotes body stability and prolonged concentration.
The reality is that on a squash court you will not always have the opportunity to step and play a shot off your preferred foot. The sooner you learn to be comfortable playing off both feet, the better.
Do yourself a favour and develop a rhythm here. If you look hard enough, you will find that rhythm and repetition are in the same whatsapp group.
The longer you persist with this drill, the better. As is the case with the first drill, it would be prudent to do this off the backhand too.
Volleys are a complicated business at the best of times. Overcoming the discomfort that comes with taking the ball out of the air can be an enormous undertaking.
Once you have overcome that psychological barrier, you then have to think about whether you should plant the left or right foot before playing the volley.
The key to playing and executing the volley well is eliminating as much of the thought process as is conceivably possible.
You teach yourself to do that by teaching your brain to make those split second decisions. This drill, if done properly will deal with this problem adequately.
Stand on the short-line and start with the backhand volley. Just focus on hitting the ball hard into the front wall and taking it out of the air when it returns. Once you develop some form of rhythm, the move should evolve.
Like you did with DRILL 2, start alternating your right and left leg every time the ball comes back.
Unlike in a match situation, this drill will require you to create some height with the volley every time. It might not win you the point but it will help keep the drill going. Moreover, it will help you development some consistency.
As you would have noticed all over these pages, consistency is the be all and end all in squash. That also applies to the volley. In addition, you also learn to position your feet well during the volley – an aspect of the game that is the undoing of many.
This is a progression from DRILL 3. Instead of volleying from in front of the short-line, you will now master the art of volleying from behind the service box. The key to achieving some level of success with this drill is using an open racket face.
You also need to maximise the height on the front wall, for obvious reasons. If you are feeling really saucy, you can look at alternating the right and left leg.
We are continuing with the volley theme here, just adding a touch more spice. This time, return to the short-line. Hit your first volley straight, your second volley cross court, your third volley straight and your fourth volley cross court.
Continue that cycle for as long as you can. You should be hitting every shot while on the back foot. This is normally how you would be playing the volley in the game situation. The idea is not to make the situation easier for yourself.
Hit the ball relatively wide on the front wall and get yourself moving.
This is also a volley routine, that requires some swift movement across the court. It is only really achievable when executing it from the front half of the court. Hit your first volley straight and your second volley cross court with the view to rebounding it off the wall.
Hit the third volley straight and your fourth volley cross court with the view to rebounding off the wall again. The longer you can keep this going the better. Instead of trying to make it easier, focus on improving your movement and speed.
Adopting a similar philosophy to that employed in DRILL 6. Start the drill by hitting the ball into the front corner – touching the front wall first, to secure a rebound back into the middle of the court.
Return the ball to other side of the court and secure a rebound there too. In essence you should be drawing the figure eight on the squash court. A key element of this drill is learning to find the right angle off the face of your racket.
So, try to keep the racket face open while in your stride and make contact with the ball in front of you. Doing it consistently is a major step in the right direction.
This is a modification of DRILL 7 with the only variant being that you take the ball in the air. It is a volley routine. However, as is the case in DRILL 7, you need to learn to do this without ever moving from the centre of the court.
Open the racket face to secure the right angles both off the forehand and the backhand.
Start off really close to the corner of the court. This is also a volley routine. Get the ball to rebound and take the ball in the air, both on the forehand and again on the backhand.
As you develop a rhythm start moving backwards without letting the ball bounce. The drill helps with timing and develops your capacity to hit angles regularly – and on the fly.
The boast is a very valuable squash shot, a prominent feature of the game. Mastering the art is critical and this drill allows you to do that.
You basically play the boast off both walls and alternate. A rewarding aspect of this drill is that it is also physically demanding. When it comes to completing a solid workout, this is as good as it will get.
The value of the ball machine in squash is often understated, especially for a player competing at an intermediate level.
Granted, at this stage in a squash player’s development moving backwards with an open stance from the middle of the court should be second nature.
However, there is always room to fine tune that movement and intermediate players should always embrace the opportunity to do that.
So, you will start this drill at the middle of the court and using the split step to push off, you will make your way to both of the back corners. Given that most players are right handed – and that the forehand is the more prominent shot – start the drill in the back right corner.
When you are done with that move to the back left corner.
Using the ball machine, get the ball to ricochet off the front wall and into one of the back corners. Start the drill without using your racket at all. For the moment just focus on mastering the movement.
So, when the ball shoots of the front wall, lunge backwards with the open stance and just catch the squash ball before running back to the T-line. Do this repeatedly on either side of the court.
Once you feel you have adequately warmed up and fine tuned your movement, you can start performing the drill with the tennis racket. The same principle would apply. Lunge backwards, play the stroke and return to the T-line.
In keeping with the ball machine theme, we will shift that focus to the volley. To a large degree, the emphasis with this drill will be on speed and limited reaction time.
Position the machine in such a way that it would effectively be playing a cross court shot towards you. We are operating under the assumption that you are on the right-hand side of the court here and close to the short-line.
Taking all of the basics into consideration, like starting with the racket in front of you and then turning the body and taking the racket back as one unit.
While you should have kicked the habit by now, what you want to try and do is avoid taking the racket back in isolation to the body or vice versa even. A weak volley is one that is hit with the wrist only.
That is why the weight transference from your body is so important in this routine. Your body and racket should be one.
You can perform this drill with either a ball machine or a partner.
Ultimately, somebody or something will feed the ball into the back corner of the court. This could be put into application on both the right and back hand corners of the court.
A fast speed is critical here, otherwise the exercise will be rendered rather pointless for an intermediate player. The feed also needs to be deep, otherwise that is pointless too. Following the feed, your first return should be straight.
Your second shot should then be hit cross court. The emphasis with this drill should be on the repetition. You should always be starting your movement on the T-line and then moving back with that open stance we spoke about earlier.
The faster the feed, the greater the challenge….which is how it should be.
So much of the emphasis in squash is centred on hitting the rubber off the ball. Especially when competing at the more advanced levels and with the yellow dot balls.
However, this drill is all about finesse, the deft touches. Ultimately three players are involved – or if there is a ball machine – two players are involved.
PLAYER TWO stands on the T-line. PLAYER THREE stands in the right service box. PLAYER ONE (THE BALL MACHINE) will make the feed.
PLAYER TWO takes the ball on the fly and attempts a volley drop…well, the whole point is to execute it. PLAYER THREE – even though the move is predictable at this point – then gathers the drop volley and plays a counter volley of his own into the corner of the squash court.
If you are feeling somewhat saucy, there could be a competitive element to this drill. If the final player in the sequence manages to executive, then he gets the point. They key here is to focus on that first volley from PLAYER TWO.
We are back to just you and the ball machine. Station the ball machine in the back right corner of the court. You should station yourself on the T-line.
The ball machine will make a straight feed and your job is to then lunge forward and take the ball on the fly. You can actually alternate the feet or legs that you push off here.
The more important goal here, though, is to execute a deft drop volley. To increase the challenge of this drill, it would be prudent to feed the ball at a higher speed and kill as much of that pace as possible on the volley.
Place the ball machine in the left-hand back corner of the squash court and station yourself on the T-line. You should stand facing the front wall. The feed from the machine will be straight.
Your objective is to focus on a smooth and early transition towards the back of the court and make the return. That transition includes making your racket adjustment accordingly while on the move.
The moment you hear the ball pop from the machine should be your trigger movement with this drill, in the same way that you would hear a ball come off a racket in a game situation. Once you have made the return, you then scurry back to the centre of the court and anticipate the next feed.
The drill is mostly about repetition but more about developing meaningful rhythm. In order for this drill to mean anything, you really shouldn’t be stopping at any point but more especially at the points of rotation.
So, by that we mean at the centre of the court and once you make that return.